Judging is now under way to decide who will take the 2015 NMR RABDF Gold Cup title at this year’s Livestock Event. It will go to one of six herds that have made it through two rounds of the competition. Farmers Weekly takes a look at this year’s contenders.
Neil Baker, Rushywood Farm, Haselbury Plucknett, Somerset
Neil Baker runs the 692ha family-owned Rushywood Farm at Haselbury Plucknett, Somerset. His herd size has increased over the past year by 520 head to 1,800 cows. With 55% of the herd being heifers, yields are currently running at just over 11,000 litres sold.
Average production for this three-times-a-day milked herd is 11,772kg, 3.62% fat, 3.25% protein with a somatic cell count of 125,000/ml and a bactoscan of 30. Mastitis cases have been reduced by 20% in past 12 months.
Heifers calve at 23 months old and, despite high yields, the pregnancy rate is 26%; 27% of cows are in-calf by 100 days and the average calving interval is 382 days. Mr Baker also scores the cows’ transition success. They are averaging about an 80% success rate, which is the percentage of cows that calve without a milk fever, retained placenta, displaced abomasum, metritis score of three or four, or culling incident within 30 days of calving.
John, Margaret and Stuart Harvey, Drum Farm, Beeswing, Dumfries
For the second year running brothers John and Stuart, with their mother Margaret, are in the final with their pedigree Holstein herd of 322 cows and 340 youngstock.
A hands-on family, one member is always part of the three-times-a-day milking team. Other responsibilities are allocated to each family member, assisted by a team of five general farmworkers.
Herd size has remained static for the past two years after a period of rapid expansion. In the year ending January 2015, 3.7m litres of milk were sold to Lactalis from the year-round calving herd.
And production for the qualifying Gold Cup year also placed them top of NMR’s national rankings with 12,252kg of milk and a record-breaking 903kg of fat and protein.
Somatic cell count is low at 104,000/ml with a bactoscan of 18. Sand-bedded calving pens, rather than straw, have helped to reduce mastitis cases to 16%.
Fergus McDowall, Rerrick Park Farm, Dundrennan, Kirkcudbright
Fergus McDowall’s (pictured above left with herd manager Neil Graham) 850-cow herd at Rerrick Park Farm is managed by 16 staff.
In 2010, the McDowalls took a huge step and invested in a new Greenfield site. Expansion has allowed them to increase cow numbers from 180, and with the construction of a new 200-place cow house set for later this year, Mr McDowall hopes to increase numbers to 1,050 milkers. The 24:48 swingover parlour will be running for 20 hours a day.
The herd yields 10,445kg of milk at 3.9% fat and 3.29% protein on three-times-a-day milking. Keeping a close eye on the monthly cost of production helps maximise efficiency for the year-round calving herd and profit for the business currently stands at 5.8p/litre.
A number of KPI targets are set and the percentage of cows in-calf at 100 days post-calving stands at 50% and the calving interval is 384 days. Mastitis incidence is low at 7.5%, with just 56 cases. Milk is sold to Muller Wiseman Dairies.
Arthur Palmer, Oulton House Farm, Norbury, Staffordshire
Arthur Palmer aims to achieve 40% milk from forage and high yields with his 400 cows – 30% of which are now Norwegian Red-crosses.
The proportion of cross-bred cows will increase to 100%, with Fleckvieh used as a third cross.
Heifers calve at two years old in this autumn block calving system. The milking herd is run on an intensive system in the winter and a New Zealand system in the spring.
Regular reseeding with modern high sugar grass mixtures has resulted in an extra two litres of milk a cow a day.
See also: Meet the 2014 Gold Cup finalists
Milk is sold on a Tesco contract and the annual average yield for the qualifying period stood at 10,063kg, 4.02% fat, 3.26% protein on twice-a-day milking. The average cell count is 171,000/ml.
Health and welfare management is a priority and mobility scoring is used to pick up problem cows. The herd is routinely vaccinated for IBR, BVD and leptospirosis. Calves are screened for BVD using tag and test and cows screened for Johne’s using NMR’s Herdwise service.
Brian Yates, East Logan, Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbrightshire
This is the second time Brian Yates (pictured above right with his son Michael) has entered the 277-cow herd, which is based at East Logan, into the Gold Cup. It is managed with help from wife Sheila, son Michael and daughter Anna, as well as herdsman Trevor Hough and farmworker Leslie Craik.
Housed year round and fed a TMR, the herd’s average production, for the year ending September 2014 was 11,707kg at 3.97% butterfat and 3.13% protein on three-times-a-day milking, with a cell count of 108,000/ml.
Brian says use of the Keenan Pace system enables a consistent ration to be fed and for the herd to be benchmarked. Feed conversion efficiency stands at 1.63 litres for every kilo of feed.
The herd calves year round with the in-calf rate 100 days post-calving standing at 65%, with just 3.6% of cows not in-calf by 200 days.
The family strives for lifetime yields of at least 50,000kg of milk across five lactations. Milk is sold to Arla.
Philip Metcalfe, Washford Farm, Leyburn, North Yorkshire
This family partnership is run by brothers Philip (pictured above), David and Brian, with retired parents, John and Thora, and help from a team of 20 staff.
Four years of expansion has seen the herd almost double to 900 cows, which are milked three times a day. Housed year round and fed a TMR, the herd’s average production for the year ending September 2014 was 10,926kg of milk at 3.58% butterfat and 3.14% protein, with a somatic cell count of 196,000/ml.
The next big step is installing a new 72-point rotary parlour to allow them to increase to 1,300 cows.
All heifers up to 12 months old are managed away from the farm at a specialised unit. And another unit takes them from 12 months through to calving at 24 months.
Philip considers breeding part and parcel of building a successful herd. He looks for longevity when selecting sires, aiming for at least five lactations and a lifetime daily yield of more than 25kg. Milk is sold to Paynes Dairies.
The NMR/RABDF Gold Cup
The NMR/RABDF Gold Cup is open to all dairy herds with official milk records across the UK. Farmers entering must have at least 100 cows in the herd, an annual average cell count of 200,000/ml or less and a profit index number (PIN) value that is breed specific
Finalists are selected and visited by the team of judges, which this year consists of RABDF chairman, former Gold Cup winner and Lancashire-based Jersey producer Ian Macalpine, NMR board member and Isle of Anglesey-based producer Trevor Lloyd; and 2012 Gold Cup winner from Worcestershire, Mike Miller. Each finalist is judged on factors such as physical and management performance, environmental schemes and their future plans for the business.
This year’s winner will be announced at 4pm on the NMR stand at the Livestock Event on 8 July.
The Livestock Event is taking place on 8 and 9 July at the NEC in Birmingham.